GRAND RAPIDS — In selling shares in the design and construction management firm he started 23 years ago, Guy Bazzani begins to wind down a lengthy career that had a significant influence on the green building movement in West Michigan.
Bazzani Building Co. is among the pioneers locally of design and building principles and practices that follow a Triple Bottom Line philosophy that blends economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Nathan Gillette, president of Natura Architectural Consulting LLC in Grand Rapids who worked for Bazzani from 2004 to 2009, describes how Bazzani brought to Grand Rapids the green building principles he learned and used while working on the West Coast.
By blending general contracting, real estate development and architecture “under one rainbow,” Bazzani led a transformation in the market that made green design and building the norm, Gillette said.
“His influence, especially in the green building community in Grand Rapids, has been pretty widespread,” he said.
Gillette also notes how Bazzani Building specializes in historic preservation and revitalization, particularly along the Wealthy Street corridor and in the Eastown and East Hills neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, all while following green design and building principles. He cites as a specific example of the firm’s work the East Hills Center that Bazzani developed at Diamond Avenue and Lake Drive on the site of a polluted former gas station. The East Hills Center became one of the first projects in the nation to achieve dual gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
“He was years ahead of the curve. Nobody was talking about green buildings or energy efficiency. It just wasn’t on anybody’s radar. He started expanding on those ideas and getting that word out,” Gillette said. “What that did was carve a beautiful little niche for him here in this community. By the time the rest of the design and construction community caught up to this and decided green buildings were a great thing, everybody recognized Guy had been talking about it for years. From a business standpoint, it put us in a really unique situation.”
The firm’s work over the years earned praise, recognition and numerous awards.
Bazzani himself even received a place in the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum’s Hall of Fame in 2016.
“We, in a very formal way, consider him one of the most important individuals of the past 25 years in supporting sustainability in West Michigan,” said Dan Schoonmaker, executive director of the WMSBF. “He’s important in the green building movement, especially in Grand Rapids.”
Bazzani in late April sold a majority stake in Bazzani Building to investment firm ASA Group LLC, based in Granger, Ind., near South Bend. He retained a minority share in the deal. As well, minority partners including President Peter Skornia retained their holdings and remain with the company.
Gillette considers Bazzani’s sale of his shares in the firm as “a little bit of the end of an era” in Grand Rapids. He’s hopeful ASA Group “can carry on with that torch.”
ASA Group CEO Michael Coyne plans to maintain the company’s focus. He sees “a lot of opportunities ahead of us” in sustainable green design and construction and may in the future look to extend Bazzani Building into other markets.
“We’ll maintain that because that’s who we are,” Coyne said of the firm’s signature sustainable business philosophy. “Maybe we take a look somewhere down the road at expanding the footprint a little bit outside of Grand Rapids, but no matter what it is, it’s going to follow the same principles. We’re not going to get away from the principles that made them different.”
ASA Group invests in established small businesses with $2 million to $10 million in annual revenues where “maybe a little bit of capital and some outside eyes can advance it to the next level,” Coyne said.
Bazzani Building, a certified B Corporation that meets third-party social sustainability and environmental performance standards, was advised on the deal by Grand Rapids-based Small Business Deal Advisors LLC. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.
Bazzani, who turns 65 this year, formed the company in 1996 and decided last year to sell.
“I just said to myself it was time,” he said. “It was just time to get out of an active business and into more passive work.”
Bazzani took on an advisory role that will run at least through the end of the year, and possibly longer, he said. He plans to remain active in Grand Rapids, although he’s “kind of letting the dust settle a little bit” before deciding what to do next.
In seeking a buyer for the business, Bazzani wanted to find someone that embraced and would continue his sustainable business philosophy. He received interest from multiple parties before deciding to move ahead with ASA Group.
“It is such a relief,” he said of the deal. “It really was a great fit.”
ASA Group in the past has looked at companies listed for sale and represented by Small Business Deal Advisors. ASA Group never bought any of the companies, but remained on an email list the M&A firm sends out listing the businesses it represents that are for sale.
Coyne was immediately interested late last year when he received a Small Business Deal Advisors email that included Bazzani Building. The description of the company “caught my eye,” and Coyne said he quickly followed up to learn more.
“I felt that it was unique, and I felt that since it was unique, there would probably be a lot of people taking a look at it, so I didn’t let it sit on my desk very long,” he said. “The company has a long and successful tenure operating in an attractive niche.”
Bazzani also was a key figure in the buy-local movement. Years ago he formed a local chapter of BALLE, or the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the precursor to Local First, which today lists him as founder emeritus.